Let’s try this again. Why I started my earlier somewhat epic length post about Irish Dancing was today’s Google Doodle. (Note to Google...see how much you influence my life, why you take my favourite Reader?) Anyway, I was noticing that the rather cute lineup of girls and one boy were resplendent in their Irish dancing costumes, their big white smiles and arms fastened tightly at their sides, sure to please any judge at any Féis anywhere. I’m not an Irish dancer, it wasn’t a big thing in Dublin where I grew up, or at least it was out of my immediate experience. I have a vague memory of idly wanting to try it, but I have a stronger memory of wanting to try ballet after a school trip out to Dun Laoghaire or Blackrock or someplace. (My mother told me I was too tall)
When we moved to Offaly it was most decidedly a Big Thing. At that stage I was comfortable with my non dancer status, but a few of my friends were into it and as they entered their teens they tended to be more definite about their commitment to it all. I used to meet them at practices sometimes, learned a little of the basics just hanging about at the end of practice sessions, that sort of thing. My little sister, who is 13 years younger than me, and a couple of my younger cousins then started lessons, and I skirted around the edges of that strange and competitive world.
First off, Irish dancing will always be associated with old paper - songsheets and old programmes and discarded tabloids for example - stuffed into odd corners in half finished pine partitions or stage blocks, dust, mouldering heaps of wires, community building toilets with stale urinal blocks, all brightly cut through by the smell of cheap washing up liquid, stewing tea and burcos boiling in adjoining kitchens. There were red plastic chairs that threatened to raise welts on the behind, and waiting through endless categories of young children bravely running through their routines. Rifling through the rainbow of raffle tickets on your knee for the five millionth time, getting bored with the conversation of the women (usually) manning the desk pulled to the door way with the open USA tin full of money and raffle ticket books, because you didn’t know who they were talking about. To escape the inevitable bum blisters you wandered back stage to catch a few words with your friends, who are desperately trying to get their hair to ringlets in the days before wigs were the norm. Those madly patterned knee socks, like the ones I had to stain with cold tea for Bridgens when I was a younger young lady in Dublin. Dresses that seemed to have christmas ornaments exploded in a fireworks factory poured all over them. Sometimes there was a rather lovely velvet that I absentmindedly twitched the nap of while trying to be polite over some of the more garish (usually vivid pink) dresses in the room. Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly believe a person should be able to wear whatever the hell they like, people should be happy with their dresses. I’m just not a fan of some of the way over the top stuff personally.
It appeared to my teenage self that sometimes the judges went for the tightest ringlets, the neatest socks and the most outlandish dresses because they somehow indicated more fervour in one of actually equally talented dancers. That trick of putting vaseline on the teeth I hear is favourite with beauty pageants? I first heard of it at Scór. My problem became that sometimes it seems like the paraphernalia is judged as MORE important than the talent of the dancers.
I’m not especially fond of some of the Irish dances, especially the light ones that in my brain don’t match up to the music. I get that that’s my own opinion, obviously. My sister left the competition side and veered into Comhaltas, where she kept up the dancing, but really started concentrating on the music. (She’s extremely talented, and not just because I’m her sister and say so.) I used to like watching her dance with a couple of her friends, practicing, when they were enjoying it and it didn’t have that competition rigidness that takes some of the spark out of dancing for me. I love heavy dancing steps, they feel and sound like live drumming. I don’t think I need to say too much about Riverdance, I think it was so electric because it emphasised rhythm and the interactions between dancers, they moved, they had real bodies, they flirted. For me that’s sort of the point. The “so rigid my shoulders are up around my ears” pose of some of the little ones dancing feels all wrong to me.
Irish dancing, as something I as an Irish person identify with and like, is ceile dancing, where the craic is in “we’re all in this together” and the group endeavours to get everyone through the piece with plenty of laughing, joking and, with luck, some flirting. I accept that there will always be someone who HAS to come out with “NO, you CLOWN, you were supposed to flick your foot left on the 10th iteration and tighten up that left turn, ttscchhh!” I’m not especially competitive, I like my dancing fun, lighthearted and forgiving, with lots of interaction. I get that some people need to be technically brilliant, to preserve the actual skills etc. I admire people who do it, and who achieve excellence in it, but I think the modern idea of dancing suffers from a perception that everyone has to be equally excellent to participate. I have grown up thinking I am a terrible dancer because I am not small and lithe and graceful, because I tend to be a little on the clumsy and heavy footed side and am horribly self conscious. I am not a good dancer. But dancing that we respond to as an ancient group of people is not about that, I’m slowly getting used to the idea that I can dance in a group simply because it is fun and I want to. I’ve been doing some SCA stuff recently, we recently learned a medieval dance called "Jenny Pluck Pears" which was fun, flirty and gave plenty of opportunity to ham it up as much as you desired. I enjoyed it immensely. More of this sort of thing, I think.
Oh, and Happy St. Patrick's Day, all.